You Should Run Schools More Like a Business...Well, Not Really!

"You should run schools more like a business." We have covered responses to this type of taxpayer advice on numerous occasions. But we recently ran into another good response from Jeff Bryant from the Campaign for America’s Future based in Washington, D.C. In his speech entitled Five Messages About Public Education That Don’t Sell (and Ones That Will), Bryant tackles some key messages.

What follows is just one of them – his thoughts on why running schools as a business is not the right approach. You can read the full text of the speech here.

How often do you hear people say, “If we ran a business the way we operate schools, we wouldn’t be in business very long”? We’re told that:

  • Public schools are archaic. They were designed for the industrial age and are out of step with the needs of a “knowledge society.”
  • Education is too inefficient and not productive enough. Schools need to focus on “quality improvement” and “zero defects.”
  • Teachers resist change. They’re protected by tenure. Schools are a bureaucratic monopoly.

So now superintendents are calling themselves CEOs and parents are being called customers.

This rhetoric doesn’t sell well because it distorts the mission of education.

First when people say run schools like a business, they don’t say what kind of business. Coal mines aren’t run like restaurants.

Second, most businesses fail. Do we really want schools that are constantly failing? How is that good for kids?

Third, you’ve all heard the Papa John’s tagline “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” Well, as Jamie Vollmer has pointed out, schools can’t control their ingredients. They have to educate all children with the resources they are given by the community.

Lastly, businesses are not democratic institutions. Schools must be democratic if we want parents and taxpayers to have input into how schools are run. And schools must model democracy if we want children to be prepared to function in a democratic society.

So instead of comparing schools to businesses, we should be talking about schools as essential infrastructure, like fire and police protection, roads and bridges, and our electoral process.